Sunday, October 9, 2011

What We Owe

The following dialog is from the 1967 film, Look Who's Coming to Dinner, starring Sydney Poitier, Spencer Tracy, and Katherine Hepburn. It's a story about a young, successful doctor (Sydney Poitier) who falls in love with a white woman. Both characters in the film must contend with their parents inability to accept their choices. I was struck by one particularly poignant scene between Poitier's character and his father, whose mindset so reminds me of all the narcissistic parents out there who use "you owe me" logic to get their adult sons and daughters to fall in line.

I can see EFIL, in particular, in the character of Poitier's father. Does anyone else see their parents in this dialog:

Father: Yeah, I know what you are and what you've made of yourself. But I worked my ass off to get the money to buy you all the chances you had! You know how far I carried that bag in years? Miles. And mowin' lawns in the dark so you wouldn't have to be stokin' furnaces...and could bear down on the books. There were things your mother should have had that she insisted go for you. And I don't mean fancy things. I mean a decent coat. A lousy coat! And you're gonna tell me that means nothin' to you....and you could break your mother's heart?

Poitier: You listen to me. You say you don't want to tell me how to live my life. So what do you think you've been doing? You tell me what rights I've got or haven't got, and what I owe to you for what you've done for me. Let me tell you something. I owe you nothing! If you carried that bag a million miles, you did what you're supposed to do! Because you brought me into this world. And from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me like I will owe my son if I ever have another. But you don't own me! You can't tell me when or where I'm out of line, or try to get me to live my life according to your rules. You don't even know what I am, Dad, you don't know who I am. You don't know how I feel, what I think. And if I tried to explain it the rest of your life you will never understand.


  1. Yes! I saw a post similar to this one on another blog called narcessistic parents and quoted some of it in my own. Maybe, "Look Who's Coming to Dinner" should be required watching for all ACoNs.

  2. I agree, NON! When I shared this with my husband, he said, "Wow! Maybe we should watch that one!"

    I'm a big fan of Sydney Poitier anyway, so I'm game.

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Jonsi! I love the response.

  4. I did too, Judy! I thought it was fantastic! I even had a brief thought of DH typing it out and mailing it to his EF.

  5. Wow. I'm going to have to rent this one. Thanks for sharing.

    My NM thinks she knows me, but in fact she knows nothing about me because she never cared to find out who I am.


  6. I'm sorry to hear that, Elizabeth. I can say the same about my husband's parents - they certainly don't know their own son, and were never even interested in knowing me.

    On the other hand...I know EXACTLY who they are.

  7. I always tell my children they owe me NOTHING. I brought them into this world and I OWE THEM -- a childhood, nurturing, love, food, shelter, an education, encouragement, and the confidence to leave me and explore their own life. However, I tell them they WILL OWE their children the same thing.
    - Sad Widow